Why Turkey’s Jewish Population Continues to Decline
“Due to deaths and emigration, there are now 450 fewer Jews [in Turkey] this year,” wrote Mois Gabay, a columnist for the Turkish-Jewish weekly, Salom.
This, he said, is not only because the community is aging and has a decreasing birthrate, but as a result of “the traumas that every Jewish generation has endured” in the country.
“Our community has got even more uneasy due to the terror attacks to which they are exposed every 10 years and has been suffering due to the rising antisemitism,” he wrote. “Add to that the economic circumstances that are getting even more difficult, and a considerable section of our community is looking to raise their children in a different country. Thus, most of this year’s emigrants have been young people.”
Polls back this up. For example, a survey conducted by Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University in April/May 2009 showed that 64 percent of Turks did not want Jewish neighbors. And, according to the 2015 Anti-Defamation League Global 100 poll, 71% of the Turkish adult population harbors antisemitic attitudes.
The rise of militant Islamist groups in the region is another factor. According to a Sky News report in March, ISIS terrorists were planning an attack on Turkish-Jewish kindergartens, schools and a synagogue that doubles as a community center.
As if all of the above were not enough, the antisemitic outbursts from many Turkish politicians and journalists are making life even harder for the country’s Jews.
For instance, during a panel discussion titled “The July 15th Coup and Its Social Impacts” at Pamukkale University on October 17, Ahmet Altiparmak, the governor of Denizli, said, “This mind is not the mind of an American, or of a Briton alone, or of an Israeli… I say that this mind is the mind of a Jew who was raised in America and who has English genes. And I think it will not end here… Perhaps the players will change in time, but the victims will be Turkish and Muslim again.”
Tamer Korkmaz, a columnist for the pro-government Islamist newspaper Yeni Safak, recently wrote that Fethullah Gülen, the cleric living in self-exile in the US, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for the July coup attempt, has “ties with the Jewish lobbies.”
Korkmaz went on to claim that Gülen’s mother’s real maiden name was “Rabin.”
Nor are such antisemitic sentiments expresses solely by Islamists. As independent scholar Rifat Bali wrote in 2009: “The Turkish translation of Mein Kampf has become a bestseller in the country and can be purchased in some of the largest supermarket chains and bookstores.”
Bali, author of Antisemitism and Conspiracy Theories in Turkey, wrote:
The official line that successive Turkish regimes have frequently repeated and which has firmly established itself in both Turkish and foreign public opinion is that the Republic of Turkey is one of those rare countries in which antisemitism has never taken root, and in which Jews have thus lived for centuries within a tolerant atmosphere of peace and tranquility, but it simply isn’t true.
Along with antisemitism are the conspiracy theories in which the “Jew” or the “Zionist” feature as the main actors that are widely seen throughout Turkish society. In fact, this state of affairs is not only pervasive but has even become “normal” to the point of banality, so much so that in tends to draw no reaction from either the country’s intellectuals or politicians.
Several political figures, media representatives and intellectuals in Turkey have engaged in hate-filled propaganda against Jews and Israel. During the 93-year history of the Turkish Republic, Jews have been subjected to various other forms of discrimination, as well, and even a pogrom in eastern Thrace in 1934.
According to the 1927 census, there were 81,392 Jews in the country. Today, there are around 15,000.